Philosophia

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 97–111 | Cite as

Acquainted with Grief: the Atonement and Early Feminist Conceptions of Theodicy

Article

Abstract

This paper explores the relationship between the problem of evil and a kenotic view of the Atonement evidenced not just by feminist theologians, but by analytic philosophers of religion. (“Kenosis”, from the Greek κένωσις, “emptiness,” generally refers to the emptying of the self, and more specifically refers to the passion of Christ, during which Christ suffered on behalf of humanity.) I will argue that, although kenosis provides an interesting story about the ability of Christ to partake in human suffering, it faces debilitating problems for understanding divine concurrence with evil in the world. Most significantly, I will argue that the potential tensions between divine justice (in holding wrongdoers responsible) and divine love (for those who suffer) can be loosened by looking at ‘redemptive accounts’ of theodicy in the scholarship of women writing in the early modern period in philosophy, particularly Mary Hays (1759–1843), and Catharine Macaulay (1731–1791). Their work collectively confirms the problem of concrete evil (that is, not just that evil must be logically possible in order for God to create the best possible world, but that atrocious harms are pernicious to a perfectly existing necessary being) and yet offers a unique theodicy grounded in the saving power of the Atonement and restorative power of Christian service. Their arguments are all the more compelling for having been written in response to egregious civil rights abuses and rampant domestic violence of their day. If the Atonement is the divinely-ordained method for gaining insight into the redemptive power of divine grace, then rather than speculating about the metaphysical nature of the divine, this paper will question how we can understand divine perfection in light of evil in the world, especially if the Atonement of Christ involves kenosis.

Keywords

Problem of evil Theodicy Kenosis Atrocity paradigm Atrocious harms Evil God Atonement Justice Civil rights Early modern philosophy Leibniz Catharine Macaulay Mary Hays Claudia Card Marilyn McCord Adams 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Research support for this paper was provided by a generous National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Award. This paper benefitted tremendously from input received by participants in the University of Notre Dame’s 2014 Logos Workshop. Special thanks to William J. Abraham, Joy Ann McDougall, Samuel Newlands, Michael Rea, Marilyn McCord Adams, Amy Peeler, Andrea White, Lacy Hudspeth, and Kevin Diller.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Texas at San AntonioSan AntonioUSA

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